How to Recycle Better

Disclaimer: I am basing this information off of what I learned while touring our local recycling facility. Your facility may be different with different recycling rules and procedures. The best way to find out is by contacting your local facility, going on a tour, or reaching out to your city’s green/recycling/zero waste initiative divisions.

Visiting our local recycling facility was one of the most educational opportunities I’ve had in a long time. It was fascinating how high tech the facility was but also how much we don’t know as a community on best recycling practices. So. I’m hoping to share out a few small things I’ve learned. First off, make the time to check out this video. This is the facility that I got to visit and it was absolutely fascinating to see how materials are sorted in a single stream recycling system.

And here’s what I learned — broken down by different types of materials.

  • Plastics
    • #1, #2, #5 — These recycled plastics have a good market in our area so I don’t feel too terrible about using them (i.e. if I do choose to use plastic for something, I try and make sure it’s one of these numbers). Check with your city to see which plastics are in the most demand in your area.
    • #3, #4 — Not as good of a market as the plastics above so I tend to avoid as much as possible. However, yes, these are still recycled.
    • #6 aka styrofoam — These are not taken by my city. We were told that even IF they are taken for recycling, the market is very low for #6 plastics. I avoid these as much as possible.
    • #7 aka mixed use plastics — Not a lot of curbside recycling programs take this number but ours does. However, this is done mainly to make the recycling process easier for the community — but, these products are not truly recycled. I find that a lot of skin and body care products use #7 packaging. I have been saving these to take to Origins but have also considered getting a TerraCycle Beauty Product Box just so I know the packaging is getting recycled in some way.
    • Other Plastic Recycling Tips
      • Black plastics (like the ones found with frozen meals) can be difficult to recycle because the conveyor belt that handles all the recycling materials is also black, making it difficult for the sensors to pick them out.
      • Certain facilities take plastic shopping bags/bread bags/dry cleaning bags/ziplock bags/air cushions (all bagged in to another plastic bag). If not, these can be dropped off at store plastic bag drop offs.
      • Plastics should be clean, empty, and dry when put in the recycling bin!
    • Glass
      • Broken glass cannot be recycled in my city. Some cities may take broken glass if contained in a paper bag or box.
      • Metal or plastic (all-non glass) lids attached to a glass container must be removed for separate recycling since the recycling machine is unable to separate out a non-glass lid from a glass container (see more on this below).
    • Metal/Aluminum
      • The best item to recycle! There’s a strong market and products are not “downcycled” in to less desirable items. The process is also incredibly fast.
      • Small pieces of metal (anything smaller than a size of a sticky note such as bottle caps or even can lids) are too small to go through the recycling system on its own as the pieces will fall through the machine (and ultimately get thrown away). I get around this by collecting all my small pieces of metal and storing them in an old can. Once full, I hammer the can shut (so the little pieces don’t fall out) and recycle as usual.
      • Aluminum foil can not be recycled.
      • Again — items should be clean, empty, and dry!
    • Paper
      • Small pieces of paper and shredded paper need to be corralled together so that the small pieces don’t fall through the cracks (literally). I collect all my small pieces of paper in a large brown paper bag and recycle when full.
      • Our recycling facility does take milk and juice cartons — even though they have that plastic coating inside + a plastic spout. They have a very cool system that separates out all the plastic from the paper carton.
      • Metallic paper (such as some gift wraps) can not be recycled.
    • Items That Cannot Be Recycled
      • Here are the items that the facility frequently finds in the system (even though they can NOT be recycled): diapers, dog poop, grass clippings, hoses, and hangers (this can really mess up the machinery, by the way! take your old hangers to the dry cleaners or donate them!).

Zero Waste Dallas-Area Resources

I will keep this list updated as I explore and learn more. Please let me know if you’ve found any other places that aid in a zero waste lifestyle!

Bulk Buying

  • Central Market: Buy fruits, veggies, mushrooms, (sometimes salad greens depending on the location), bulk flour, sugar, spices, nuts, granola, oats, candy, chocolate, tea, coffee, fresh bread all with your own bags. They do have bulk honey and nut butters as well — but I haven’t tried buying these with my own jar as I don’t know whether the cashiers can handle the whole tare process. I have brought my own jar for hummus in the olive bar section and used the scale there to tare + print my checkout label (which was a bit of a pain as it took a while to figure out). Unfortunately, they don’t have the same scale in the bulk section. Overall though, Central Market is the bulk winner based off of the sheer amount of items available in the bulk section.
  • Whole Foods: Buy fruits, veggies, mushrooms, (sometimes salad greens depending on the location), bulk flour, sugar, spices, nuts, granola, oats, candy, chocolate, tea, coffee all with your own bags. They also have bulk honey and nut butters as well. However — I have heard that it is very hit or miss as to whether they let you bring your own jars.
  • Sprouts: Buy fruits, veggies, some bulk flour, sugar, spices, nuts, granola, candy, chocolate with your own bags. Much smaller selection than Central Market but really good prices. I’ve noticed that they frequently have pre-measured bulk items available to buy in plastic containers (nut butters, candy, etc.) — which kind of defeats the purpose of buying bulk.
  • Market Street: This one was a bit of a surprise. My husband wandered in to the Market Street in Allen (Watters Creek) and noticed they had honey and canola oil in bulk. He asked the store manager whether they could handle us bringing our own jars and she said yes! We haven’t had to utilize this yet (since I stocked up on liquid bulk items at the AMAZING in.gredients store in Austin — highly recommend if you are driving through!) but will report back on if this works out.
  • Dallas Farmers Market (or any farmers markets in the area): Fruits and veggies. Especially a good way to get berries that aren’t packaged in plastic (more on that next).

Pick Your Own Farms

  • Berries. My husband loves them. I hate that they are always pre-packaged. Enter the pick your own farms. The winner here is Blueberry Hills Farm for amazing blueberries and blackberries. Last year, we picked 2 massive bags of blueberries (yes, they ultimately put them in a big old freezer bag, but I prefer that once a year to weekly plastic cartons). I used one bag to make jams and stuck the other bag in the freezer. We’re finally running out a year later but will be back to pick some more this June. There’s a new strawberry picking farm opening this year which I will check out and report back on!

Recycling

  • Recycle Revolution Dallas: Come here to recycle all traditional materials and electronics waste for free (if your city doesn’t have these services). They also take styrofoam for a fee — although, I would avoid styrofoam as much as possible.

Composting

  • Recycle Revolution Dallas: For a $1/gallon — drop off “fruits and vegetables (i.e. produce), meats, dairy, grains and carbohydrates, sweets, powders, compostable utensils and to-go bags.” A great option if you aren’t able to compost at home. For reference, I fill our 5 gallon bucket to the brim in 4-6 weeks.

Chemicals

  • Household Chemical Reuse Center (Plano and Allen residents only): Unused/unfinished chemicals (cleaning, yard, pest control, paint) that are picked up by the city are available for reuse at this center. And it’s completely free! I find it wonderful for spray paint and ant killer.

Electronics

  • United Electronics Recycling: I visited this facility and was amazed by the sheer amount of electronics they process. I also love that they have zero landfill initiative. If an item has a plug or has used batteries — it’s eligible to recycle. They also take all types of batteries (not just rechargeable ones). In Plano, they have a weekly e-recycling drop off but also do one off events across the Dallas-area.

Miscellaneous

  • SCRAP Denton: Great for all those random items (mostly craft related supplies). SCRAP Denton takes different items at different times of the year so check their website periodically for updates. However, I have usually found that I was able to get rid of a lot of these items through FreeCycle. However, a great resource for those closer to Denton.

Our “Luxury Item” List

Nope — I don’t mean La Mer cream or gold toilets. Our “luxury items” are those items that are housed in plastic (particularly #7, which our city takes but doesn’t really have a market to sell those plastics to) or end up in the landfill. But for now — these items are what we have, love, or haven’t found suitable recyclable or zero waste alternatives for.

  • Sonicare brush heads (landfill): Can’t quit these! They keep my teeth in great condition and I’m not willing to switch over the bamboo toothbrushes yet. Maybe someone can make bamboo brush heads or something for Sonicares?
  • Makeup products (landfill or Origins): I love makeup and skincare. And I’m not giving them up anytime soon. But unfortunately, a lot of these containers are mixed materials. My only option for my empties is taking them to Origins with the Return to Origins program. Better than the landfill, right? This still isn’t ideal for me and I would love to move towards getting products with compostable or reusable packaging. Any favorite brands?
  • Dog food bags (landfill): My dogs have to eat. And they both require their own special foods for various reasons. This isn’t even a luxury item. It’s just a real life necessity. And that’s totally okay.
  • Frozen fruits/veggies bags (landfill): I’ve been cutting back on these but every once in a while, I just need some frozen peas! I guess I could shell my own peas and freeze them but, I’m sorry, I don’t have time for all that! I wish these bags were more eco-friendly. If anyone has any recommendations, let me know!
  • Styrofoam take out containers (landfill): Although a lot of these have that little #6 on the bottom, nope, they are seldom recyclable curbside (and if they are in your location, there isn’t much market to actually recycle them). You can find a list of places near you that might take these here but even in a big city like Dallas, there are only 1 or 2 locations. But I still love me some takeout. And I haven’t yet grown the balls to take my own container to my favorite Tex-Mex place and ask them to fill it (since I strongly doubt they would due to “sanitary” reasons or whatever). I have been good about not taking my leftovers home in restaurant takeout containers but for the occasional pick up, yep, we still get a small handful of these every month.

The “Does This Go in the Trash?” List

I have the below list on our fridge (mainly for my husband) so I don’t have to constantly answer the question: does this go in the trash? Feel free to use it for yourself!

Save for compost pile (browns)
Newspaper ripped into pieces
Hair + pet hair
Vacuum and dryer dust
Toilet paper rolls ripped into pieces
Cotton q-tips
Facial tissue (on the rare occasion it’s used)
Paper towels (on the rare occasion it’s used)
Parchment paper ripped into pieces (incl. cupcake liners, butter wrappers)
Used matches, toothpicks, skewers
Bamboo cleaning supplies
Biodegradable sponges
Dead flowers/plants
Pizza boxes ripped into pieces (recycle non-oily top)
Paper egg carton ripped into pieces
Wine corks

Bokashi for compost pile (greens)
ALL food scraps (incl. small bones, dairy, eggs, meat, tea leaves, leftovers, baked goods)

Recycle
Newspaper bags, grocery/produce bags (on the rare occasion it’s used), cereal liners, bread bags, dry cleaning bags (put it all in one bag and drop off at Target)
1-7 plastics (no styrofoam, pumps with metal in them)
Glass (take off metal caps and put in metal scraps tin, recycle plastic caps separately)
Paper and cardboard

Add to specialty recycling receptacles
Small metal scraps (nails, safety razor blades, bottle caps) in tin (recycle regularly when full)
Electronics and old batteries for city’s electronics recycling
Toothpaste and floss tubes for recycling by TerraCycle’s Colgate Recycling Program
Beauty/skincare/makeup/hair empties in box to go to Returns to Origins Program
Packaging material for re-use
Fabric that cannot be donated for recycling by city

Landfill (booooo!)
Snack bags
Trash bags
Aluminum foil
Plastic wrap
Wax paper
Tape
Metallic paper
Hygiene items

The Mega Guide to Reducing Waste

Everyone has their own journey to reduce waste. It’s not about being perfect but about making small changes over time that ultimately leads to less stuff going out the door. For me, this looks like reducing landfill trash and recyclable plastics (since plastics tend to get downcycled). To do this, I first created a monster spreadsheet (that my husband laughed about but totally got on board with) that analyzed all our trash and recycled items. I organized these items by biodegradable/reusable/package free + aluminum + paper + glass + recyclable plastic + landfill. The ultimate goal for me is to move as many items from the landfill and recyclable plastic columns over to the other ones. For each item, I thought of the best possible alternative that reduced waste. Of course, there are also items that I am calling “luxury items” — items that we love that aren’t particularly zero waste (certain makeup, hair care products). And you know what? That’s okay! This is not about being perfect and depriving yourself. It’s just about doing the best you can. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll share more on composting, DIY-ing, and zero waste resources I’ve stumbled across. But for now… here it is. My monster list. I hope it gives you some ideas for alternatives to commonly used items. Or at least gets you thinking about your own trash production. I would love to hear your ideas on alternatives as well!

THE MONSTER ZERO WASTE LIST. (yes, it needed it’s own page.*)

*Note: I will keep this list updated as I learn more.